June 4, 2002 -- A new 3-D IMAX (TM) documentary film, "Space Station" creates an experience that is as close as most of us will ever get to space travel, at a tiny fraction of the cost.
Using newly-developed lightweight stereoscopic cameras, "Space Station" gives the viewer the eerie sensation of actually floating weightless in space. The cameras, first flown into space in 1999, record the images for the left and right eye onto a single strip of film. The two images are later separated and projected individually. Naturally, you have to wear those funky 3-D glasses. The three dimensional effect of the image is quite realistic most of the time. I had the irresistible urge to try to reach out and touch the image which seemed to be floating inches away from me, even though I knew it was not real.
Three dimensional film technology has been around a long time, but the IMAX system looked more realistic than the motion picture 3-D images I remember from back in the 1950s when I first saw them. The current enhanced IMAX 3-D system was unveiled in 1990. This was the first time I had seen a 3-D IMAX film. One thing I noticed about the images was that I could focus on individual objects within the International Space Station just as if I was looking around for myself from a central vantage point inside the station. It seems to be easier, and more productive, to look at objects away from where the camera is pointing in a 3-D film than it is in a conventional 2-D film. The 3-D effect did not work all the time. At times, I could see the dual images on the screen rather than the fused 3-D image. When it worked well though, it was an amazing effect.
The film shows interesting astronaut training segments as well as segments on the manufacture of space station components. There is also some interesting footage about the formerly top secret Russian space program. The best stuff, however, includes the rocket blastoffs, the wild ride to the space station and the footage taken on the space station itself (the space station footage is filmed by the astronauts themselves). The footage on the station concentrates on zero gravity phenomenon. The zero-G stuff is quite entertaining. In one funny little segment, astronauts are shown moving heavy equipment down a passageway by sending it floating on its way to the next person in a kind of zero-G bucket brigade. A voice then says that sometimes they bring a woman on board, and a folded-up woman comes floating along and is passed from person to person like the cargo. Astronauts (and cosmonauts) definitely have a sense of humor. There are several segments of astronauts playing with zero gravity phenomenon. They seem to be having a blast up there.
The film was preceded by a short 3-D cartoon, "Paint Misbehavin,'" which accompanies all IMAX 3-D films. The cartoon was created using a new Stereo Animation Drawing Device called SANDDE (TM) developed by IMAX. The device allows the cartoonist to draw three dimensional images and to see the 3-D images in real time. While the cartoon, and "Space Station" are not dazzling in terms of content, the 3-D effects are captivating. "Space Station" rates a B.
Note: I saw this film while on vacation in London and was astonished to find that this particular IMAX theater, with the biggest screen in the country, has assigned seating, a fact the ticket seller did not mention when I bought my tickets. My wife and I ended up in seats down in the front of the theater I would not have selected. Luckily, I had my non-bifocal glasses with me. If you go to an IMAX theater in London, ask if there is assigned seating and if there is, ask to see a seating chart. You want to sit near the vertical center of the screen and as near the horizontal center of the screen as you can get. I've been to lots of IMAX movies before, but never to one with assigned seating. Maybe this is a common practice with 3-D IMAX. The seating plan had everyone in a pack, near the horizontal center of the screen, but spread back to front. Perhaps there is a method to this madness because of limitations in the 3-D projection system.
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